Stun guns have killed at an alarming rate in Florida

Frank Cerabino / Cox Newspapers /

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. —

When a teenager made the fatal mistake of running from Miami Beach police officers this month, he became the 12th Floridian to die after being zapped by an electronic stun gun during the past five years.

Israel Hernandez, 18, an aspiring artist, was spray-painting the letter “R” on the side of a vacant McDonald’s in the early morning hours of Aug. 6 when officers confronted him. The teen ran. The foot chase ended when one officer shot Hernandez in the chest with a Taser cartridge, causing him to collapse on the sidewalk, where he went into cardiac arrest and died.

It’s extremely rare that stun guns, which deliver 50,000 volts through barbed prongs that pierce the skin, end up leading to a person’s death. But consider this:

In the final five years that Florida operated “Old Sparky” to kill Death Row inmates, 11 Floridians died in the electric chair.

With Hernandez’s death, stun guns have now been instrumental in the deaths of more Floridians than the electric chair over the same period of time.

These stun-gun-related deaths aren’t ending the lives of killers, but often people who are suffering from mental problems, drug-related psychosis or just a lack of common sense not to run from police after being stopped for a minor infraction.

Derrick Humbert, a 38-year-old father of three, was stopped by a Bradenton police officer for riding his bike without a light one night five years ago. Humbert, who was high on cocaine at the time, ditched the bike and ran. The officer zapped him and Humbert died after going into cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital.

In 2006, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement conducted a study of the use of these weapons, which the agency refers to as “electronic control devices,” or ECDs.

“ECD devices are not likely to cause serious injury or loss of life for suspects or law enforcement officers, except in situations where certain medical conditions and drug use are factors,” the study found. “However, more research should be done on the overall safety of such devices.”

An Orange County Sheriff’s Office Taser Task Force report found that the use of stun guns reduced officer injuries by 80 percent and produced fewer injuries to detainees than batons, sprays and other arrest techniques used by its deputies.

But in 2005, the U.S. Army discontinued the use of stun guns on its own soldiers during training exercises, finding that “seizures and ventricular fibrillation can be induced by the electric current.”

The Police Executive Research Forum published a list of 50 guidelines for the use of stun guns, recommending that they should be deployed only to counteract “active aggression,” that fleeing from police isn’t enough justification to use them, that no more than one officer at a time should use them, and that officers should refrain from stunning children, pregnant women, the elderly and people in handcuffs.

Danielle Maudsley was in handcuffs at a Florida Highway Patrol substation in Pinellas Park two years ago after she had been caught trying to leave the scene of two traffic accidents.

The 20-year-old woman, who had cocaine and oxycodone in her system, tried to slip away from the FHP substation before she could be processed. But a trooper chased her out the building and fired his Taser at her back. Maudsley fell backward, hitting her head on the asphalt parking lot, causing a concussion that led to a coma and left her brain in a vegetative state.

She is not listed among Florida’s stun-gunned dead.